Bonnaroo II: Hacks and Indecision play with legends

Indecision, Hackensaw Boys, Neil Young, et al.
June 13-15
Manchester, Tennessee

What happens when you clear roads through a muddy old 500-acre Tennessee farm, miles from any major interstate, book 75 of the best artists in the world with a slant towards jam-nation, and then invite 80,000 eager fans to come along for the fun? Traffic jam?

Well, actually, yes. But the real answer is the title of an old Dr. John record, "Bonnaroo," Cajun slang for "Let's hang out on a dirty farm and do the hippie shuffle for three days." For those old enough to remember, think of a giant Van Riper's festival– with fewer bathrooms.

"I can't believe this show," Liz Phair says. "It's pretty awesome. It's like our own country." And in a way it is.

The security people were all surprised by how few problems arose. They must have been expecting riots of Woodstock proportions. But the typical response from his crowd was: "Duuuuuuude, that rocked."

The security folks at Bonnaroo wink at just about anything, as long as nobody gets hurt. Okay, okay... yes, they were hauling nitrous tanks out of the parking lot, but they weren't evicting the vendors. Now that's tolerant!

 The only real problem for a fan is the sheer number of artists performing over the 72-hour marathon. (Aside from maybe 7am to noon each day, music is being played.)

Any festival that features Neil Young and Nickel Creek has some serious vision behind it. Of these pairings, how would you decide who to watch?

* Yonder Mountain String Band or Ben Kweller?

* Ben Harper or Sonic Youth?

* Lucinda Williams or Tortoise?

And then from midnight to 4am, The Funky Meters or an outrageously good Stones cover band, "Sticky Fingers"? And this list just gets us through the first day! As the kids say, this festival was "off the hook."

Saturday brought more great talent, from giants like Emmylou Harris and the Allmans to current faves The Roots and The Flaming Lips. Newbies ruled on Sunday: the Drive-By Truckers, but oldies were there, too: James Brown and festival-closers The Dead.

Longtime local jam band Indecision performed on Saturday to an almost rabid response, proving once again that the band does, indeed, have an audience, especially in the post-MP3 world.

The Hackensaw Boys were a huge hit, their eclectic mix of raw Americana and mountain soul so believable that one new fan actually asked this native Virginian, "Are they really all named Hackensaw?"

So there you have it, Bonnaroo 2003 in a nutshell. It really is what some are calling the "Best Festival in the United States." If your ticket to ride is great music in a hospitable environment, waaay out in the country, meet up in Manchester next year, and find out what you've been missing.

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